Logan police debut drug dog

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec / Logan Township police officer Alex Vazquez introduces the department’s new K-9 dog “Freddy” during a press conference Monday afternoon at the Logan Township Building.

Logan Township’s newest police officer — a 1-year-old Belgian Malinois drug dog — hit the streets Monday.

Freddy and his handler, Patrolman Alex Vazquez, have been training together for months and will now take their unique abilities on patrol in the township and wherever else they are needed in Blair County.

Vazquez and Freddy demonstrated the dog’s ability to find drugs on Monday, and within minutes of the unveiling of the new K-9 team, the pair climbed into their vehicle and headed out on patrol.

To the department, Freddy’s just like any other officer.

“He has a badge; he has a badge number,” Vazquez said, adding that if something happens to Freddy, they treat it the same as if something happened to one of them. “He’s one of the guys now.”

“The Logan Township Police Department has a very proud tradition of police K-9s,” Chief Timothy Mercer said Monday as township officials gathered to introduce the dog and thank area organizations that pitched in financially to help the department get its new K-9 team trained and working.

“Our dogs have a prestigious record of being able to remove large quantities of illegal drugs from our community before they were actually able to make it to our streets,” Mercer explained.

Vazquez spent 300 hours training with Freddy, building a bond of trust that will be necessary.

The department acquired its first police dog in 1994, and when the most recent dog, Vilo, retired earlier this year after nine years of service, the township made a commitment to get a new K-9 team to carry on the program.

“The problem is finding the necessary funding to augment this program,” Mercer said.

Mercer said the dog’s cost, plus six weeks of training, is $14,000. A cage system with temperature control and deployment system were also necessary for the K-9 team’s vehicle at a cost of $6,000. Mercer said Vazquez will wear a device on his duty belt so he is able to monitor the vehicle’s temperature — in case the air conditioning goes out or temperatures otherwise get dangerously high — as well as to deploy the dog by remotely opening one of the vehicle’s doors in case Vazquez needs Freddy’s help. The township is dedicating one of its new Ford police SUVs to serve as the duo’s vehicle.

While the dog will live with Vazquez and his wife, the township will pay for all veterinarian, food and other costs for Freddy throughout the duration of his career.

“As you can see, it’s a very expensive venture for a municipality to take this kind of responsibility on,” Mercer said. “We are so fortunate to have the assistance of our community members.

Mercer said Operation Our Town has supplied the bulk of the funding with additional money donated by the Blair County District Attorney’s Office and the Greenwood United Methodist Church, which without the knowledge of the township held a spaghetti dinner and raised $5,500.

Operation Our Town President Michael Fiore thanked the community for its support of the organization. He noted that OOT held a special fundraising effort that raised more than $5,000 — all in small donations such as $5, $10 and $25.

“Without the community stepping up with us 11 years ago today, Altoona would totally be a different place to live,” Fiore said. “The war on drugs — this isn’t going to be something that ends — this is going to be something our community is faced with for years and years to come. Creating these partnerships is very critical to fight the drugs and also the violent crime that goes along with the drugs.”

Fiore said he wished there could be a K-9 in every department. He recalled an undercover drug agent telling him early on the impact a K-9 team has on narcotics investigations.

“Drug dealers aren’t afraid of drugs; they aren’t afraid of people; they aren’t afraid of their neighbors; but rest assured, I can tell you when they see a dog, it’s all over,” Fiore said. “They freeze. They don’t want anything to do with dogs.”

Apart from police officers, the drug dogs are the No. 1 tool in fighting drugs in the area, Fiore noted.

Assistant District Attor­ney Pete Weeks said, “It is awesome to be able to work with K-9 handlers in drug investigations and drug prosecutions because we then have the ability to take drugs off the streets before they’re delivered to users.”

He commended the township in continuing its tradition of having a police drug dog, one he said is invaluable with search warrants and vehicle searches.

“And to go to the schools and keep the schools safe, as well,” Weeks said.

Mercer pointed out Vilo had conducted locker searches in every school district in Blair County, and Freddy would also be available to area schools to help keep students safe.

Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.